Do you dream of visiting the coast of Maine? Do you envision iconic lighthouses set on rocky shores, pots filled to the brim with bright red lobsters, pine trees towering overhead? Your dream can come true with this list of things to do in Acadia National Park.
That perfect Maine vision is what you will find on beautiful Mount Desert Island, home of the scenic Acadia National Park and the town of Bar Harbor. That vision is what we’ve packed into this post: a list of the must-do Acadia activities.
This area is wonderful for travelers of all kinds, with an endless array of outdoor activities plus sightseeing, shopping, and dining for the less adventurous. Ideally, you’ll have a week or more to explore Bar Harbor and the surrounding area, but you can certainly fit the best of the best into a few days if you need to.
We’ve had a fantastic time exploring this stunning area, and we’re going to share our favorite Acadia National Park sites and experiences with you now. But first, let’s answer a few frequently asked questions.
Acadia National Park – A Quick Guide
How Many Days to Spend in Acadia National Park?
There are enough hikes and other activities to fill a week, but even if you only plan to spend 2 or 3 days in Acadia National Park, the recommendations provided here will give you a good taste!
Where Should I Stay in Acadia National Park?
Check out our article on the top Acadia and Bar Harbor accommodation here!
Camping is lovely in Acadia, and there are tons of excellent Bar Harbor campgrounds to choose from.
But for hotels, you will love the Bar Harbor Inn. It has a wonderful location just steps from shops, restaurants, and the harbor. You can sit outside on the lawn and enjoy beautiful views out over the water. Two on-site restaurants mean you don’t even have to go far to have a good meal. There’s also a spa, heated outdoor pool and hot tub, free continental breakfast, and many rooms with ocean views.
How Do I Get to Acadia National Park?
If you’re wondering how to get to Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, you have a few options.
By Car: You don’t necessarily need a car once you’re on the island, as the main area of Bar Harbor is walkable and there is a free shuttle that circles through Acadia. But driving to Bar Harbor is an easy way to get there. Bar Harbor is quite far north in the state of Maine, but it’s a fairly straight shot north on 95 towards Bangor.
At that point, you’ll head east out to Mount Desert Island. Driving from Boston to Bar Harbor takes approximately 5 hours. Portland, ME to Bar Harbor is a drive of 3.5 hours.
By Air: There is a small regional airport (Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport) with free bus service to Bar Harbor (available only during the summer). An alternate option is to fly into the larger airport in Bangor and rent a car or take a shuttle.
How far is Bar Harbor from Acadia National Park?
One of the great things about this region is how there’s so much to do within easy driving distance. Bar Harbor to Acadia National Park (and vice versa) is just a few minutes’ journey. You’ll be at the entrance to the park very quickly.
The Top Things to Do in Acadia National Park and Bar Harbor, Maine
Drive the Park Loop Road
You simply have to drive the Park Loop Road, a 27-mile route that circumnavigates a large portion of Mount Desert Island. You can stop as much as you wish during the drive. There are multiple parking lots and pull-off points. You’ll be seeing views like this:
Psst: Before you enter the park, you will need to buy an entrance pass. You can find out where to buy and specific prices here. A vehicle pass valid for 1-7 days (including occupants) is $25. Not a bad deal! If you’re traveling without a car, the Island Explorer shuttle passes through the park, or you can hop on a narrated bus tour with fellow travelers.
Planning to visit several national parks this year? The America the Beautiful Pass is an amazingly good deal, giving you access to more than 2,000 sites for an entire year. Get it here.
Admire Thunder Hole
Your first main stop on the Park Loop Road is at Thunder Hole. This is a natural rock formation where high seas can cause a thundering boom and a huge splash. If you time it right, you can catch prime conditions for the thunder!
The best time to visit Thunder Hole is 2 hours before high tide. (Check tides here). This is when the waves are moving in and when booms and splashes are most likely. You may not catch the massive roar that Thunder Hole is known for, but you can still get an idea of this geological wonder.
Continue along the road for more beautiful sights and great places to stop, including Sand Beach and Otter Point. It’s worth just stopping and relaxing and enjoying the view. Acadia National Park is a popular place, so expect some crowds (especially in summertime).
There are definitely less crowded stops along the way. Even during a busy fall week, we were able to find a few spots all to ourselves. Hint: head down the paths and trails toward the water.
Eat Popovers at Jordan Pond House
Your next big stop is at Jordan Pond. This is a gorgeous body of water with two notable features to the rear. These hills are known as The Bubbles (and you can hike them). If time allows, go for a walk on the 3.4 mile Jordan Pond Loop Trail, an easy trail which takes you around the pond.
Whether you do the hike or simply stop and admire the pond, one of the top things to do in any Acadia National Park itinerary is to eat at the Jordan Pond House. The restaurant offers a full menu, but what it’s famous for is POPOVERS.
Popovers are a light, hollow roll made with egg batter. They. Are. Delicious. If you’ve ever tasted Yorkshire Pudding, these are very similar.
Jordan Pond House has been serving popovers and tea since the 1890s, so having one (or two or three or four!) is an essential item on your list of Acadia National Park sites. Many friends suggested we give them a try, and we were very glad we did. The popovers come in groups of two, and honestly, two are enough to satisfy you. Spread them with butter and strawberry jam, and savor!
Take a Whale Watch or Nature Cruise
Head back into Bar Harbor. You’re ready to spend some time on the water! You should take a cruise with Bar Harbor Whale Watch Co.
Depending on the time of year, you’ll have various options. You can see whales, puffins, seals, and seabirds, take a lighthouse tour, or take a more general nature cruise.
We took a scenic nature cruise during our visit to Bar Harbor in October, and it was a lot of fun. It was great to get out on the water and learn more about the coastline. Our guide was really well informed, and we learned a lot about the history of the park and its residents.
Of course, we also spotted some wildlife (our favorite part)! While you don’t get super close to the wildlife on this cruise, you can spot seals and eagles from a distance. If you’re there during whale watching season, we’d recommend going on a whale watch, as those are an exhilarating experience!
Click here for more info on TripAdvisor.
See the Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain
Ready to get up early? If you are, you can join the throngs of people who head up to the top of Cadillac Mountain for sunrise. We’re told this is gorgeous and worth the early rise. (It didn’t work out for us to check out Cadillac on this last trip, but we’ll definitely do so in the future…it’s got to be one of the top things to do in Acadia National Park).
You don’t even have to hike to the summit, though you certainly can. There is a road you can take to park at the top. If you do go, plan to arrive especially early as it can be busy, making parking a challenge.
The rest of the day is dedicated to visiting Acadia National Park. People come here for the fabulous hikes. We’d love to return and do some camping and more hiking. Since we were short on time, however, we wanted to pick the best of the best when it came to hikes. A suggestion that we kept hearing was the Beehive.
Tackle the Beehive Loop Trail
After some research, we decided to hike the Beehive Loop Trail. Honestly, this was one of the most enjoyable hikes we’ve ever done. It was not too long of a trip, taking only a couple hours to complete. What makes this trail so amazing is the route up.
If you have a fear of heights, you may want to avoid the Beehive Trail. Much of the trail leads nearly straight up the cliff face, and you will have to use railings and handles embedded in the rocks to help you on the way.
This is the fun part. It’s so awesome to feel like a climbing monkey as you scale the cliffside. This trail will require your whole body, and I’d recommend having some flexibility and comfort with supporting your own weight, but it is not as taxing as it might seem.
I (Amy) was somewhat nervous before the hike, as I wasn’t sure if it would be too strenuous. (I’m not a stranger to hiking, but I’m sliiiightly out of shape.) It turns out, I did just fine!
I felt the toughest part of the hike was the beginning, when you’re heading up rocky stairs. This is the most exhausting part of the path, especially for someone with short legs like me. But there is plenty of time throughout the hike to rest and regain your energy. And if you need an excuse to take a breather, the views are absolutely crazy!
Spend time at the summit soaking up the gorgeous scenery, which is especially incredible as the fall foliage bursts into view. You can continue on to another summit called the Bowl, or head back down the Beehive Loop. Don’t worry–you don’t have to go back the way you came! The route down is much more traditional!
Still have some energy? That’s the spirit! If you’re up for it, go out and tackle another hike! Here’s a great list from Travel & Leisure featuring some of the best trails for your Acadia National Park trip itinerary.
Enjoy Sunset at Bass Harbor Head Light
You can’t visit Maine without stopping by a lighthouse. The Bass Harbor Head Light, located on the southwest side of Mount Desert Island, is definitely worth a visit. Surrounded by tall pines, it teeters on the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the sea. It doesn’t get more iconic “Maine” than this.
After your day of hiking, drive over to the other side of the island to visit the Bass Harbor Head Light. This spot is super lovely at sunset, but if I visited again, I’d go earlier in the day, especially if you want to take photographs.
It’s very, very crowded at sunset. It’s tough to park, and unless you arrive super early, you won’t have any space to set up a tripod and grab that sunset photo you’re after. In fact, there are very few places to stand, and the rocks are slippery and uneven. And some of the photographers who are there REALLY do not like people getting in their shots!!!
We did achieve a sunset shot of Bass Harbor Head Light, but to get this, I ended up sitting on sharp rocks among the water and seaweed itself! The things we travel bloggers will do for a photo!
Explore Downtown Bar Harbor
The downtown area is made up of a small network of streets, and it’s easy to get around on foot. Plus, it’s absolutely adorable. You will spend time browsing shops, grabbing a bite to eat, and, if you’re up for it, enjoying some of the casual nightlife.
Recommendations for Downtown Bar Harbor:
- Shopping in Sherman’s – Maine’s Oldest Bookstore
- Browsing In the Woods – A beautiful woodworking shop where you can ride a giant rocking horse
- Grabbing souvenirs in Cool as a Moose
- Eating handmade ice cream from Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium (They even have lobster flavor!!)
- Where to grab coffee: Coffee Hound or Choco-Latte
Grab a Bite
During your trip to Acadia and Bar Harbor, you’ll want to enjoy the local dining scene. There are some fantastic restaurants here. We took the advice of friends (and Yelp) and ended up at some total gems.
Side Street Cafe
Oh wow. This has got to be one of the best restaurants in Bar Harbor. The Side Street Cafe is, predictably, on a side street. Just a few blocks from the main tourist area, this tasty place is tucked away waiting for you. Though you might not stumble upon it, you should make plans to head here ASAP. It’s where many locals like to dine, and with good reason.
Awesome food. Awesome prices. Incredible mac ‘n cheese. Great beer. Happy hour. We promise it’s awesome.
The Thirsty Whale
This tavern is relaxed and pleasant. It has the laid back, unassuming air of a sailor’s tavern, with hearty dishes and good drinks. Try the lobster bisque for sure. This spot also offers affordable prices. More info on The Thirsty Whale.
Other Suggested Bar Harbor Restaurants:
- The Reading Room, Bar Harbor Inn
- 2 Cats Restaurant
- C-Ray Lobster
- Lompoc Cafe
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Amy is the founder of New England with love. A proud Vermonter, she hopes to share her love of New England and help you find the best adventures in the region. Amy is also blogger/founder at Two Drifters, where she blogs alongside her husband about romantic and couples travel, relationships, honeymoons, and more. When not working on websites, Amy is probably reading, cuddling her husband, & drinking a maple latte.